On the off chance that you might have missed it, Sag Harbor’s Mashashimuet Park is once again teeming with activity after being closed to the public for several months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tennis courts, with both hard and clay surfaces, are packed, yoga classes are taking place on the lawn, children’s soccer camps have returned to the back playing fields, and the park’s well-equipped playground with swings, slides, and all sorts of climbing apparatus, is being put to good use by little children.
“You can see every corner is being utilized,” said Linley Pennebaker Hagen, a member of the board of the nonprofit Park and Recreation Association of Sag Harbor. “We are trying to make this a real community space.”
Today, the park board, which barely two years ago celebrated the completion of a $375,000 project to completely rebuild the children’s playground area, has plans for another upgrade, but this time with an older demographic in mind.
In the space between the hard surfaced tennis courts and the children’s playground along the west side of the park, the board plans to install an adult fitness area, with various types of exercise equipment, from chest press and squat machines to stationary bikes.
The board estimates the new project, which will include the repurposing of a small cement basketball court into a more general sports court, will cost about $175,000.
“We think this is a great opportunity to let the community know that we’re there for them,” said park board Vice President Janine Rayano, “and that by putting these pieces of equipment in, they will have more of an opportunity to do the things they can no longer do inside.”
“That’s the beauty of the new playground. There are different sections for different age groups,” said board President Gregg Schiavoni. “Now with the workout area, it will serve all ages from the youngest to the oldest.”
The park board hopes to have the new equipment installed as soon as it raises most of the money for the purchase.
But therein lies the rub. As a private entity, the park association does not have access to public funding, except, of course, for the money the Sag Harbor School District pays to use its athletic fields for school sports, and must rely on fundraising efforts to pay for capital upgrades.
“There are still people who live in Sag Harbor who don’t know the park is a privately owned entity,” said Mr. Schiavoni.
“Everyone assumes it is a public park,” added Ms. Rayano, “and that’s a big assumption.”
“We get no tax dollars,” stressed Ms. Hagen.
That’s because the park and the neighboring Otter Pond, about 160 acres in total, were a gift from, who else, but Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, the benefactress whose other gifts to the village included the John Jermain Memorial Library, Pierson High School, and the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum, which, incidentally is in her former home on Main Street.
Mrs. Sage began acquiring the property that would become the park in 1908 and turned it over to the Russell Sage Foundation in 1917, just a year before her death. In 1920, the foundation gave the property to the newly established Park and Recreation Association of Sag Harbor, which has run it ever since. A small fund that accompanied the gift was exhausted years ago.
The park board, like so many other local nonprofit organizations, typically runs a variety of annual fundraisers, but those events have been derailed by the pandemic.
Ms. Rayano said plans are afoot to launch a new fundraising drive, but noted the competition is stiff and the needs across the community are many. For now, until a more formal fundraising effort can get off the ground, she said the board is counting on the park’s many users to help jump start the campaign. Donations can be sent to the Parks and Recreation Association of Sag Harbor, P.O. Box 1653, Sag Harbor, NY 11963, or can be made online at the park’s website, mashashimuetpark.org.